In 1999, I was a guest on the local talk show, “A.M. Buffalo,” brought on to discuss the ways in which violent media, specifically the newly released film “Fight Club,” contribute to a culture of violence in the United States.
Having spent years as a sexual assault/domestic violence victim advocate, I had come to understand that violence is almost always a learned behavior. Rapists and killers are generally made, not born. They learn violence at home, on the streets and through the media, and they choose to use violence as a means to gain control over someone or something in their life.
After the Columbine tragedy, I was driven to use my voice in an attempt to make change. I argued that the violent culture that we create by supporting violent media, watching cable news, buying tickets to violent movies and buying violent video games contributes to acts of violence in society. While certainly not the only cause of such violence, it is one of several factors, all of which must be addressed. This was not a popular stance to take, but I took it, and I boycotted movies, video games and cable television for several years. My money was not going to be used to support the culture of violence.
I spoke out in favor of tougher gun regulations, too, most notably closing the gun show loophole and requiring child safety locks. While it is true that people kill people, people with guns kill a lot more people, and with much greater ease. In May 2000, I persuaded my mother to travel with me and other anti-violence and pro-gun control activists to Washington, D.C., for the Million Mom March for gun control. More than 750,000 mothers and their children marched together for change. We were determined and committed, and we failed. It did not appear that our politicians, or our country, had the will to stand up to the unreasonable demands of the National Rifle Association. Eventually I got tired of the fight, and I gave up my boycotts and hung up my protesting boots. It is difficult to fight battles you believe you cannot win, especially when you are not sure that anyone wants you to win.
Unfortunately, the only changes that have been made since the Columbine tragedy have been for the worse. Movies and video games are far more violent, and the cable news networks make killers infamous through multiple TV stations, websites and various forms of social media. In 2004, the assault weapons ban expired. And last month, two weeks before Christmas, 20 children and six faculty members were shot dead in an elementary school on a sunny Friday morning. It was the 19th mass shooting in the past five years.
Of course we can never know if curbing violent media or increasing gun control would have stopped the Sandy Hook tragedy. What we do know is that as our media have become more violent, as cable news has glorified mass killers in a never-ending, 24-hour media cycle, and as gun restrictions have loosened, mass shootings have become commonplace, with the most innocent among us the newest targets.
Doing nothing over the last 13 years to address the problems of a violent society simply has not worked. I hope we can find the courage now to come together to make real change, no matter how difficult or unpopular it may be. I am ready to take up the fight again. I have a 5-year-old son who deserves to live in a better world than this.
Andrea Nikischer is a Ph.D. candidate in educational culture, policy and society. She lives in the City of Buffalo with her family.